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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Humble Servant
Text:John 13:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our world we usually measure a person’s greatness in terms of human accomplishment. We look at what they have built, or how successful they are; or we look at what they had to overcome in order to get where they are; we may look at the size of their business, the number of employees, or the enormity of their wealth, their empire, and even the recognition of their name.


It’s not necessarily wrong for us to recognize human greatness. It’s not wrong to appreciate excellence and applaud hard work. I’ve always a great amount of respect and admiration for people who’ve built a successful businesses, who’ve taken risks and risen to the top of their field.


And I don’t think it’s wrong for us to recognize the greatness of what Robert and Rachel have accomplished, by the grace and power of God. What they have been through as a family, and now seeing where God has brought them tonight – with Robert being ordained as a Pastor of this church – it is a great achievement and it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge that and to celebrate that together tonight. 


But as Christians we also know that there is a vast difference between human greatness (simple as the world sees and measures greatness), and spiritual greatness. Let me put hat a different way. There is a huge difference between greatness in the kingdom (eyes & hearts) of this world and greatness in the kingdom of God.


In the kingdom of God, for example, greatness is measured in a far different way. In Luke 9:48 Jesus said, the one who is least among you is the greatest. And in Matthew 23: 11 Jesus said The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.


Now it’s one thing to say those words, even to preach those word; but it’s quite another to live them out or to demonstrate them. But that is exactly what we see Jesus doing here in John 13. Here Jesus practices what he preaches; he shows, he demonstrates what greatness means by being the humblest servant of all. Here Jesus Proves that he is a Humble Servant as he washes the feet of his disciples. We’re going to focus on Christ’s humility and see that it is a humility   

  1. Motivated by Love
  2. Expressed without Shame
  3. To be Followed by Example


1) This is a Humility Motivated by Love

Let’s listen once more to the way John begins this chapter. He writes:  It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.


John writes these words as a prologue to the Passion week. John wants to highlight the fact that everything that is about to transpire in the Upper Room, everything that Jesus does and says, and everything that Jesus is about to endure after that – in his suffering and death -- is all done out of his great love and for the sake of our salvation.


We’re reminded of that famous verse in the book of John: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!  The extent of God’s love, the depth of his love, the full degreemeasure and magnitude of God’s love was about to be made manifest as the Father was willing to give up His Son, and as the Son was willing to suffer and die on the cross to save undeserving sinners like you and me.     


Pastor John MacArthur commented about this love as it is expressed here in verse 2 (I’ve paraphrased it just a bit). When it says here that Jesus loves them/us to the uttermost, it means he loves us eternally and infinitely. He loves us as much as an infinite, eternal God can love. It’s immeasurable and inconceivable in its depth, height, length and width. It’s beyond human knowledge and description.   


I want us all to be amazed and encouraged by this thought, beloved, that Jesus loved his disciples, and that he loves you and me this much! You and I are loved more than we can ever imagine. We are loved from all eternity with a love that’s from everlasting to everlasting!


And Robert, one of the great blessings and privileges you will have as a minister of the Gospel is to proclaim that eternal immeasurable and incomprehensible love and grace and mercy of God to sinners week-in and week-out. Every worship service you get to stand in the pulpit and be the bearer of Good News; telling God’s people that God demonstrates his love to us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.


You get to tell those who are churched and unchurched that no matter how sinful and corrupt and depraved we are; no matter how much hatred and hurt, anger and bitterness, and brokenness and heartache has filled our heart and lives -- that Jesus Christ can forgive it all; that Jesus Christ can bring the help and the healing and salvation we need to escape this world’s sin and darkness.


So remember that every week as you prepare your sermons. Remember this especially in those weeks when you’re already tired and you have to write another sermon for Sunday. You have the highest calling, the greatest job and privilege in the world. You get to preach the Good News of salvation to people who people who are desperate to hear it.    


2) This is a Humility Expressed without Shame

So that is a humility motivated by love. Next we want to look at this scene as it unfolds before us in the upper Room. He we consider that this is a Humility Expressed without Shame. At least it is expressed without shame on the part of Jesus. As for the disciples who watched what took place, who had their feet washed by their own Master and Rabbi -- they were no doubt fill with shame and embarrassment. But let’s see how this takes place.    


Verses 4-5 tell us that he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.



So what’s happening here? Jesus has called his disciples together to celebrate the Seder – to eat the Passover, and this is also when Jesus would institute the Lord’s Supper by the breaking of the bread and pouring out of the wine (serving as signs of his crucified body and shed blood).


So Jesus is sitting at the table with his 12 disciples (and since they didn’t sit on chairs like we do, it is more accurate to say that they were reclining around the table), but before they ate, they were required to undergo the ceremonial foot washing. They had to wash their feet before they could eat. It was also very practical since reclining at the table would mean their feet were in close proximity to each other and to the food.  


But here’s the problem. There was no household servant available to do what needed to do be done. It’s only the 12 disciples plus Jesus. And keep in mind that the job of washing the feet of the house guests was left to the lowliest servant in the household. So there was even a pecking order among household servants and slaves.


Just like on sports teams, the rookies (first year guys) have to carry all the team gear to the bus; they have to pick up all the towels in the shower and clean up all the water bottles and wrappers left under the bench after the game; so too, in Jesus day, the lowliest servant had to do the dirtiest and lowliest jobs.


And now here’s the other problem: sitting with Jesus, around this table, was a group of proud, arrogant and sinful men. One of them was about to betray Jesus (that was Judas); another disciple was about to deny him three times (and Jesus was about to predict Peter’s denial); and according to Luke 22, ALL of these disciples were guilty of arguing about who among them would be considered the greatest in Christ’s kingdom.


So you see, (as I mentioned at the outset of the sermon) their hearts and minds were filled with the thoughts, ideas and perceptions of human greatness; and of how we tend to measure greatness and glory. Each of the disciples was eager to prove their own worth and standing; they sought to elevate themselves above the others around them – above their peers and above their own brothers; they craved human notoriety, status, honor and glory. 


Now, John doesn’t record what the disciples were thinking at the moment, but is it too far-fetched to suggest that they were all thinking: who’s going to do it?  Who among the 12 disciples would blink first? Who’s going to lower himself to do what must be done. Again, they all knew the custom. They all knew that someone one had to do it. And since Jesus was their Master, their Rabbi, they knew that the job had to fall to one of them. But none of them rose to the occasion.


And that is when Jesus got up, removed his outer garment and took on the role of the lowliest servant in the household. Jesus did what no one else would do, what all of them refused to do, what all were too proud to do. He tied a towel around his waist and proceeded to wash their feet.


Aside from the fact that Jesus was the Rabbi, and they were his disciples, don’t miss the irony here; don’t overlook the immensity of Christ’s humiliation in this scene. Here was Jesus Christ, the divine, eternal Son of God; the One who had shared His Father’s honor and glory in heaven; who only a short time ago was being worshipped and adored by angels and cherubim and seraphim. He is the Bright and Morning Star; the King of all glory. And yet here he is on earth, among sinful humans, naked, on his hands and knees, touching and cleaning the filthy feet of his sinful and proud and egotistical disciples.


If we were to stop at this point and measure Jesus’s greatness in human terms, we would say that this was one of his most shameful moments. It would be something you wouldn’t want others to know about. Wow, look how far Jesus has fallen. He was just praised and exalted by thousands of people who said called him their king. And now this? How humiliating! How embarrassing!


No real king does this! No true king stoops this low. I’m convinced this was also what Judas must have been thinking in his own heart and mind. Jesus wasn’t acting like the kind of Messiah that he had envisioned. Jesus just shamed himself; Jesus just made a fool of himself.  


Yet, as commentator William Hendriksen observed: for Jesus, the washing of the feet of his disciples was another necessary step of humiliation on the way to the cross; this humiliation was something that Jesus also must suffer for the sake of winning the salvation of sinners.


For our purposes tonight, we are not going to delve into the details of the interaction between Jesus and Peter – only to point out, however, that what Jesus says in verse 7 is clearly a reference to the ultimate act of humility, to the ultimate act of cleansing, as Jesus would soon be nailed to the cross and there he would be stripped naked, shamed and humiliated, mocked and scorned; cursed and cut off – humiliated by men; yet, through it all, glorified by God!    


Now I’m going to go right to the end of the passage, to verses 12-17 where Jesus himself applies this passage for us: When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. Here we see thirdly,


3) Christ’s Humility is to be Followed by Example

Notice how Jesus argues from the greater to the lesser. If I, the one you call Teacher, and Lord, if I am willing to humble myself like this, and take on the role of a lowly servant, if I am willing to wash your feet, then how much more shouldn’t you my followers, my disciples, my soon to be redeemed people, be willing to wash each other’s feet?


What a powerful lesson this was. And what better way to teach someone how to love; how to show humility; how to serve than by setting an example to follow! Yes, as a parent, as a professor, as a Pastor we can lecture about it, we can talk about it, we can preach about it, but there’s no more powerful and effective method of showing others what this means than by simply taking up a towel (so to speak) and demonstrating it by example.   


And there’s countless ways in which this must be applied to our lives and circumstances. And it ought to be our prayer each day that God would show us, in each circumstance we face, in each situation at work, school, at home, whether it’s in pleasant conversations, or heated arguments, or in acts of service or our daily work – that God would show us the way of humility. That God would show us the servant’s way; give us a servant’s heart just like that of Jesus Christ.     


It should be obvious as well that this application is not directed only to Robert and his work among you as your Pastor. This is every bit as much directed to you as his Council, to you as his Consistory, to you as his congregation, as it is to me and others as colleagues in the ministry.


We all need to take this to heart. We all need to learn what it means to die to sinful pride; to die to those sinful thoughts and feelings that we are somehow better than others; or that we ought to be served; or that we ought to be the ones being honored. Instead of thinking why hasn’t anyone done this for me; why hasn’t anyone come and visited me, we turn that around and we say – I’m going to go do this for someone else; I’m going to go visit someone else. 


Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others


I like to think that after that the death and resurrection of Jesus that the disciples looked back on that night, and on this particular moment with immense joy and love for Jesus their Master – and with great appreciation for the fact that Jesus taught them one of the most important lessons of their entire lives.


I also like to think that from this point on there were no more arguments about who would be the greatest among them but only perhaps a mild disagreement over who would get the privilege of washing each other’s feet. Of course that’s speculation, but I think you get the point.


The disciples were commanded by Jesus to conduct themselves after this manner, showing true love, humility; dying to their pride and to their sinful desire to exalt themselves and to be served, and instead Jesus taught them and showed them that they were put here (as He was) not to be served, but to serve others.


And in closing, if I could apply this directly to your office and calling Robert, I’m going to refer to a quotation that someone once shared with me, and it has stayed with me throughout my ministry. Though I heard it through Sinclair Ferguson, it is a quote from the 19th Century Scottish Pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne. He said, The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.


And while that may not sound very humble –in fact it may come off as sounding pompous and proud, but rest assured, McCheyne was not implying that his personal holiness was somehow more important than Christ’s. No, this was the very same man who said, Our soul should be a mirror of Christ; we should reflect every feature: for every grace in Christ there should be a counterpart in us.


McCheyne was only echoing what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy when he said, Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. Tonight I want to compliment what McChayne said by adding one more virtue, by adding one more grace, and it the grace and virtue of Christ’s humility.


If I can be so bold as to rephrase it and put it to you this way, Robert, I would say: The greatest need of your church, your family, your marriage, and your entire ministry is your personal holiness which is manifested, demonstrated everyday by your life of humility.


May your life, your ministry, your interaction with your fellow man – be they churched or unchurched be a perfect reflection of the humility and holiness of your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and may the Lord our God richly bless you and your labors among His people! Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Pastor Keith Davis

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